by Joe Rickert, Vice President of R&D and Product Management, Keysight Technologies
MPD: How is your company addressing the many constraints that the pandemic has placed on business operations?
Keysight is an international company, with facilities in over 100 countries. We have been adhering to local government health and safety guidelines, typically going above and beyond, with our top priorities being employee safety and maintaining a strong business during these times. We have taken a hybrid approach, with a combination of work-from-home setups for knowledge workers and engineering, coupled with full on-site employee teams for functions, such as manufacturing. Our employees are incredibly flexible and resilient; we have supported remote setups with PCs, ergonomic work stations, and IT infrastructure. Online connectivity tools have enabled us to both thrive from the standpoint of internal employee interaction, as well as reach out to maintain contact with our customers. Many of our customers are also working from home. This approach has created new activity systems, and it has also required us to be more flexible in our working hours. We have increased the number of virtual events, such as web based seminars, customer training events, and even our own sales training events. This includes the development of virtual sales tools and virtual/remote instrument demonstrations required for events and engagements. Of course, we all look forward to the end of the pandemic, but some of the connectivity methods used during this period will endure.
MPD: The adoption of open architectures is accelerating in many markets, from wireless to defense. Do you feel your company and the RF and microwave industry as a whole benefit from this initiative?
While improving performance and the diversity of application, open architectures are instrumental in managing the cost of procuring complex systems. Systems can be designed as “Software Definable,” enabling them to serve multiple functions. Open architectures, with defined interfaces, enable interoperability. The ability to adapt test and evaluation tools to specific applications and systems is critical to our customers’ success. In turn, customers require the architecture of Keysight instruments to be open, modular, and flexible to address several applications. Keysight is unique in the test and measurement industry, offering a broad, multifaceted portfolio of software and hardware solutions that span benchtop, modular, and racked system interfaces and form factors.
Open architectures are allowing new entrants into the 5G RF space. For example, an approach that has had a significant impact is the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) Alliance. O-RAN integrates a modular base station software stack with off-the-shelf hardware, which allows baseband and radio unit components from discrete suppliers to operate seamlessly together, and is driven by commercial and aerospace defense interests. Thus, test equipment can drive the radio more completely. When networks are not open, the radio is combined with the baseband unit by proprietary interfaces. Keysight is a charter member of the O-RAN Alliance, working with members to develop requirements. O-RAN can drive down the overall cost of a 5G gNB, thus making it economical for operators to implement cell densification, a key aspect of achieving the 5G vision. Additionally, in aerospace defense, the DoD has driven multiple Open Systems Architecture (OSA) initiatives where Keysight participates, encompassing Hardware Open Systems Technology, Open Radio Architecture, and Sensor Open Systems Architecture. AD customers rely on standards to reduce size, weight, and power to ensure commonality across multiple platforms to share hardware and software components. Keysight Open instruments provide software tools, standard I/O, and hardware based instruments, based upon open standards.
MPD: Technologies such as direct RF sampling are reducing the number of analog components in receivers and, increasingly, transmitters as well. Do you feel that the “digitalization of RF” will have an impact on your business?
The ability to sample and acquire a modulated signal at RF frequencies, then directly condition and demodulate it, is a disruptive force to aerospace defense and the communication industry. It advances how we enable technology transformation for our customers through the entire workflow, from design and simulation, through characterization, performance evaluation, and manufacturing test. Digital RF techniques bring the “plane of digitization” closer to the sensing point, e.g., an antenna will trigger a fundamental change in both measurement and sensing. RF digitalization techniques allow test and measurement to be deployed in new ways, such as embedded systems and scalable sensor networks, to enable wider analysis/generation bandwidths.
As digital technology advances with the high sampling capabilities of Analog to Digital Converter (ADC), intermediate frequencies continue to push higher and closer to input frequencies. In some cases, the microwave signal is directly sampled on RF and digitally converted down to baseband. These types of digital architectures are suited for in-channel measurements. Improvements continue, but will not entirely replace architectures needed for out of channel measurements, with respect to spurious performance and dynamic range. Tests that verify both in-band and out-of-band performance will remain, as will measurement of signals above the Nyquist frequency of the data converter. Therefore, the breadth of applications served in T&M necessitate the use of multiple instrument architectures. Similar topologies also apply to the transmitters.
Keysight has seen the advantages of this technology trend and incorporated this capability into many advanced products. RF digitization has enabled improved size, weight, power consumption, and solution flexibility with implementation of software processing. Direct Digital Synthesis techniques, with proprietary and off-the-shelf DACs, have enabled our signal and arbitrary waveform generators to achieve higher frequency and wider bandwidth with precise frequency, amplitude, and phase switching speeds. Similarly, ADC and receiver engines in analyzers, digitizers, and oscilloscopes are capturing signals at higher frequencies, with post processing software available for demodulation capabilities of digital communication signals.